Great Sand Dunes National Park  and Zapata Falls

A couple hours South of Poncha Pass the valley widened and the mountains grew shorter with peaks more dispersed.  We neared Great Sand Dunes National Park.  40 miles (roughly 65 km.) we spotted a beige cluster in the southeast distance.  The fact it was visible from such a distance suggests the scale of it.  We stopped for a quick bathroom break off the highway at a pit stop with no more than 2 of any item in stock, and less than a ¼ of the shelves with anything to catch the dust at all.  There was a diner attached.  If crickets paid they might make ends meet.  How these communities and places survive is a mystery to me.  The sandy, infertile, and incredibly inhospitable land was littered with mobile homes and trailers whose tin roofs were weighed down with old tires so not to fly away with the winds that whipped the land into it’s current condition.  Living in Edmonton and Saskatoon I’ve been questioned by many as to how we survive seasons.  The seemingly unfathomable cold is nothing compared to the un-growing, unproviding lands these are.  With cold brings snow, brings melt and feeds growth.  The native plants seem to barely survive here.  It’s hard to imagine this land providing in the sense we are accustomed to in the fertile, frozen north.

We lucked out coming into the park.  It seems those at the gate were on break.  The typically manned pay window was closed tight with a sign saying “gone, will collect payment on re-entry”.  Awesome!  National Park entry fees are $30.  Based on our cheap living budget that’s 3 days of meals for the two of us.  The dunes were barely visible from about 1km before the park gates until almost 2km after.  By that point they seem to quadruple in size.  What looked once like a sandy first rise up a desert mountain was suddenly a deep mass of sun warmed wash.  From the sandy, mostly frozen creek-bed below the dunes there is no camera lens that can capture the volume of what lies before you.  Carefully we skipped across 100m (300 feet) of partially frozen, still running, wet sand wash to get to the dry warm beach that is the base of the dunes.  And a beach it was!  This is by far the cleanest, softest, purest sand I’ve ever seen or set foot in.  It was dry 6” deep and I just can’t explain…  think the “champagne powder” of sand.

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With a quick preview and a plan of making the 750 foot vertical climb the following day, we left the park and headed up the next mountain south to a free campsite at the base of Zapata Falls.

I have a thing for waterfalls.  I find them absolutely fascinating and am obsessed with seeing and participating in as many as possible.  How exactly does one participate in a waterfall?  Good question.  I haven’t really given this much thought until this moment, the first time I’ve tried to explain or justify my obsession.  There is such a power behind any waterfall.  The only way they exist is because of thousands of years of water, something that seems so soft and gentle, forming rock; something so hard and un-formable.  You can participate by hiking nearby, ascending the same landscape they have cut through with no regard to its previous shape.  We swim and bath in the pools they form.  We jump off cliffs with them, feeling for a brief second the same power plunging into the pools below.  That’s all if you’re lucky. In most cases we participate simply by being there to observe and feel a power and force that cannot be measured by any man-made unit.

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Zapata Falls was all of that, but frozen.  Paused in time as for what you can see.  Your ears and feet disagree though.  Under thick, cracked ice, mostly clouded with air but for a few glimpses through a clear block.  This flow was alive and well beneath a frozen cloak of cold trying its best to put you on your backside with every slippery step.  I feel winter may be the best and possibly only real time to view these falls.  From the end of well groomed trail leading to them, the frozen state allows you to climb back into the tight and tall canyon, around a bend where the giant falls stand.  Without the solid water I’m not sure we would have witnessed this sight.

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Half-way back to the main parking area, the trail forks and leads an alternate route back to one of the best laid out campsites we’ve stayed at yet.  Two large loops, one for tenting and one for RV’s are lined alternately, either side with pull-through stalls, each complete with a bear-proof storage bin to keep food items in overnight, as well as picnic tables and steel fire-pits including removable grilling grates.  It seemed there wasn’t a site that didn’t offer beautiful panoramic views of the valley below, with the city of Alamosa to the South, the distant peaks of the San Juan Mountains to the West, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park to the North, slightly dwarfed by the Sangre De Cristo Mountains behind.  But just slightly.  From this elevated viewpoint we were able to, for the first time, really view and comprehend the 31 square mile sprawl of the dunes.

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Truck and Trailer- sunset view
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Rubix looking at the sunset from the trailer.
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Soon the fun begins

This is coming completely out of order but we hadn’t realized it wasn’t posted yet.

With most of the work done behind the walls it was time for carpentry.  This is the task I’m most comfortable with.  Because of that comfort I was willing to challenge myself and do something different.  But before that, we needed a plan.

The original floor plan was awkward and tight.  Speaking of awkward, it has just occurred to me after misspelling the word 3 times that it is an awkward word to spell.  We will be living in this trailer for at least the next 6 months, and maybe longer.  It needs to feel spacious.  It needs to function.  It needs to have kennel space for 4 dogs.  We need to be able to move about comfortably and pass each other without having to reverse into a more open area to do so.  Only 2 of our dogs reverse well.  At the same time, it needs to maximize storage.  So how do we achieve all that in a 190 square foot space?  Some things are sacrificed, that’s how.  Using Google Sketchup we laid out a few different plans that included a small dining table as well as a couch/day bed in addition to a queen size bed, large kitchen and large bathroom.

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With a plan we felt confident with we began.  I didn’t touch on this in the previous post, but it’s work that happened during the demolition stage, prior to the spray foam.  Most of the electrical components for the solar setup had arrived, including 3 massive panels.  38 ¾” by 79” to be precise.  These were selected without much planning.  We wanted to maximize our energy production without it being obvious we are driving a rolling power plant.  I knew we could fit 3 and no way could we fit 4.  As it turns out we couldn’t quite fit 3.  Not without making some changes that is.  The trailer had 3 roof vents on it; one in the bathroom with a broken fan and broken cover, one in the middle with a broken cover and damaged operating hardware, and one at the front with a broken cover.  The only way 3 panels were fitting up there is if we went down to 2 roof vents and moved one of them.  But that wasn’t all there was to do with regards to the roof.  Various brackets, antennas, satellite dish and other random items were fixed to the roof of the years and served no purpose other than to create work removing them.  For 3 days I drilled rivets out, removed screws, removed all the junk, patched holes, replaced damaged sheet aluminum, eliminated two vents, replaced one vent, and cut in a new hole to install a new vent in the kitchen area.  Being the only roof vent outside the bathroom, and without air conditioning, we put a 10 speed, 2 way fan in this location.  By the end of it I had patched 17 different locations on the roof, drilled out at least 300 rivets and installed close to 500.  I purchased a pneumatic rivet gun for this and it has got to be one of the most worthwhile tools I have ever bought.  I couldn’t imagine using a hand operated riveting tool for all of this.  I’d probably still be doing it between stints of physio for all sorts of issues I no doubt would have.

For the solar panel mounting I opted not to use the small brackets that were supplied and went about a bit different route.  I had concerns with the brackets for a few reasons.  The first of which was that they were meant to mount the panels on a wall or roof that isn’t going 120km/h down the road.  Secondly, I didn’t want the panels to be visible chunks on the roof of a fairly Streamline(d) trailer (see what I did there?).  I chose to run 3/16” wall, 3” aluminium angle front to back on either side to act as a sort of saddle for the panels to mount between.  To deal with water shedding, at each point of the shell frame that the trailer was bolted into I used a small piece of ¼” flat bar to act as a stand-off and effectively raise the channel that much from the surface of the roof.  One un-planned benefit of the 3” angle was that it provided some roof-line rigidity that helped to take out some hefty dents at a few bent wall/roof frame members.

Now back to the inside

I’d recently worked with cherry wood for a renovation project and really like the way it looked.  It has some beautiful marbling in it and the natural color demands nothing more than a clear varnish finish.  Having relationships at hardwood wholesalers made it an actual affordable option too.  I did some rough estimating on what would be required and went shopping.  The main ingredients for the build are 8/4 and 4/4 rough sawn cherry wood (mostly 8’-10’ lengths), ¼” cherry mdf core, 5/8” cherry particle core, ½” pre-finished poplar ply, 5/8” fir ply, 1/8” puck or rink board and .040 aluminium sheet.

The ceiling seemed like the logical place to start.  With roughly 38” of flat width before it starts to curve down to the walls we agreed that would be a nice place to run some cherry wood and break up the sea of white puck board that will be the walls.  Now when it comes to woodwork I can be a bit obsessive in the details.  And it started here.  The easy thing would have been to put up 40” wide sheets of cherry, 3 of them, and cover the seams.  But with our open plan in mind you would be able to see from front to back at once, so the ceiling needed to flow.  That is, the pattern of wood had to be consistent.  The sheets of ¼” had a repeating pattern on them which allowed one sheet to cut down into three identical strips.  What we have is 3 strips, a 14” (middle strip) and two 12” outer strips.  With it all cut and dry-fit it was back into the shop to spray it all prior to final installation.  3 coats of a satin finish, water based lacquer and it was time to install!

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With ceiling panels on we could now begin to move down the walls.  We started with puck board butting into our ceiling edge and flexed it into the curved upper portion of the walls, securing it to the framework with rivets.  It remained quite rigid due to being pressed into the curve, so it only required fastening at the edges and maintained shape well.  This is nice because it means no visible rivets after all the seams were covered.  The install of the puck board is a 2-3 person job.  A good friend of mine, Spencer, was happy to help.  Like moving though, I provided the beer.  Piece after painstaking piece, we slowly worked our way back to the spot that the bathroom wall would be and down to the floor.

 

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With the walls done, it was time for the daunting part – the upper cabinet at the front of the trailer.  The old aluminum cabinet that was removed was not suitable for re-use.  Something new had to be made to fit into a curved roof and a curved front wall.  First thing was templating the curves.  I tried to trace out from the old cabinet onto cardboard but without being installed the old aluminum was too flexible and did not provide and accurate template.  A few hours later I had traced and trimmed and marked and trimmed and screwed up and started over, tracing and trimming, until I had tow templates that were a close enough fit to work off.  Another day later I had a cabinet box 80% built, ready to fit.  And fit it did, surprisingly well!  Now we could finish the cabinet (built out of the light ½” poplar ply) by gluing on ¼” cherry to the visible front and bottom, cut open some additional small storage spaces, and spray it.  Of course, mistakes were made, and we cut in the access to additional storage in the bottom of it.  The price of long days.  I still blame Spencer on this one because had he not been helping I wouldn’t have had the extra beer or two that evening prior to cutting holes in the wrong spot.  Fortunately, it was an easy fix.  Upon correction we figured it best to call it a night.

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The balance of the front area cabinetry went without many hiccups.  The bed frame, speaker boxes, and additional storage went together well.  Onto the rest.  The front closet I was dreading.  It was more cabinetry that had to fit into a curved wall.  I had picked up some steel studs that I planned on using for the bathroom wall a few weeks earlier.  After tripping on and knocking them over numerous times I finally had a use for them!  I used them to template the curve (which I should have done for the front cabinet) by cutting relief cuts every two inches from the point at which the wall begins to curve, to the end.  This allowed me to press the now flexible steel stud into the curve of the wall.  With a few pieces of lumber screwed in to brace and hold the curve I now had a very accurate template to trace onto my plywood.  It worked perfectly!

With the front closet built we took a step back and looked at our plans.  What looks great on paper doesn’t always execute the way you’d hope.  There was no way we could fit the kennel space and a day bed/couch.  So goodbye day bed.  The balance of cabinetry went without fuss.  I installed our new water tank centered over the axles and tight to the wheel well, which were insulated using 1” rigid foam insulation, glued down and taped at seams.  The batteries would sit in the same position on the opposite side.  The cabinet boxes were built, lacquered and installed, waiting for countertops to complete.

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On the opposite side we built 2 kennels as one structure with 2” x 2” solid cherry making the frame.  Puck board acted as walls, with vinyl lattice for sliding doors, sitting in track cut into the framework prior to assembly.  More lacquer.  The remaining space would allow for an extra large removable kennel.  We though it would have been nice to have another built in one, but having the flexibility with the space matters more.

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Now for the reading room, er, bathroom…

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This was a challenge.  Our original idea was to have this be what is known as a wet room.  Meaning the entire space can get wet and drains to a central location.  Picture a spa type bathroom or that of your local gym.  We had the idea based on our experiences in Bali, Indonesia where it seemed every bathroom was built in such a way it could simply be blasted with a pressure washer to clean everything.  In a perfect setup you could properly shower while sitting on the toilet, not that you’d ever need to…  Unfortunately, due to the location of the black water holding tank it did not allow for a central drain that was easily sloped to.  This meant the floor drain could only easily be a shower drain offset to one side where the shower was to be.  So, with that in mind, and to maximize our shower space to be comfortable to use, we had a local stainless steel fabrication shop create a custom shower pan with a curb and lip all around it to fit into the rear corner of the trailer.  This allowed us to enclose the remainder of the bathroom walls, as well as the shower walls with .040 aluminium.  More sheet stainless would have been preferred due to its scratch resistant characteristics but cost, and more so workability was a major deterrent and pushed us towards the aluminium walls.  The aluminium was easily scored, cut and bent without the need of a pneumatic shear or hydraulic break.  That’s not to say it was easy.  It was not.  Just when I thought I had things figured out did it become glaringly apparent I didn’t.  Not at all.  The corners were an absolute nightmare.  And I’m still not happy with how they turned out.  The reading room is probably the first place (and was the last place to finish) that I started to say “good enough” as we were getting deeper into Canadian winter and needed to hit the damn road and start this adventure!  There are still a few little finishing details remaining that need attention, but we have yet to hit warm enough temperatures to be able to actually use the water systems.  So in the words of a good friend of mine, “problem for tomorrow!”

Trailer is done enough, time to go! (still some electrical and plumbing details I haven’t covered, but those are a bit more technical and will require a more in depth post that will put all but the most interested readers to sleep)…

The start of things to come

Building a home is no easy task.  In fact it’s an assembly of numerous not so easy tasks all performed by people who’ve spent years learning and honing their skills.  In part I’m sure that’s why it looks easy.  But as I said, it isn’t.  And yet despite knowing full well that it wouldn’t be easy we decided to do it, telling ourselves “we’ve got this, it will be easy!”  So with with the delusion meter set on full we jumped in and began the frustrating, tiring, maddening, infuriating, defeating and not the least of which; rewarding process of building our new home – on wheels.

It was sometime in June or July of 2017 when we decided it was time for an adventure.  We left the beautiful province of British Columbia in 2011, I think.  I really can’t remember.  I think that’s part of getting older?  So, let’s say in 2011 we moved to Saskatchewan.  At the time it was the land of opportunity in western Canada.  A booming province with good paying jobs was exactly what we needed to kick start life.  Make money, buy house, save for retirement and general adulting.  Fast forward to June 2017, or was it July?  The point is it’s been 6 years and we’ve made money, not bought a house, not saved for retirement, and the idea of adulting in some respects is less appealing than ever.  It’s time for a change.  We want to move back to B.C.  We are outdoorsy, mountain loving folk and we miss it.  B.C. will be home again.  Before it becomes that though we knew we needed a break.  We need to “find ourselves” again and put some perspective on life.  We need an adventure.  We need to spend time with each other and with our much-loved furry friends experiencing new things.  So, with that in mind we set out to travel and explore a bit of the U.S.A. prior to our move to B.C.

Planning for the Adventure

If it was just the two of us we’d throw a tent and the usual camping gear in the back of the truck and hit the road.  But it isn’t.  We have 4 dogs.  Yes, 4.  And none of them fit in Angela’s purse.  Erika, a 12-year-old black lab that thinks she’s 2. Jake is a 9-year-old Australian Shepherd – he’s awesome but he’s also an asshole.  Rubix is another Aussie, she is 5 and has the energy of 5 other dogs in her at all times.  And then there’s Gus.  Gus is a 2 or 3 year old Great Pyranese mix (border collie maybe?) that sort of landed in our lap and has stayed, and he’s scared of the world.  Jake is a jerk to Gus.  So we needed an adventure home for the next 5-6 months that would comfortably accommodate 2 adults and 4 dogs (1 asshole).  We began looking at travel trailers that would work with some minor modification such as removing the dining table and putting some kennels in place.  We found a few that would have worked but upon closer inspection each had issues such as soggy floor, leaky roof, rotten walls and so on.  Then we came across a 1973 Streamline.

“Hey Dylan check out this Airstream!”  Angela has a thing for Airstreams and VW camper vans.  I thought they were cool but I was skeptical.  The ad said things like “great shape” and “all original”.  I didn’t really want or have time to get into a big project.  In July we discussed leaving at the end of October.  So that was only 2-3 months to get our shit together.  We had to deal with our possessions, be it selling or storage or whatever, wrap up work, find a trailer, modify trailer, get the rest of our shit together and get on the road.  Multiple times a day for weeks on end we were scouring the classifieds across 3 provinces looking for “the one”.  Finally in mid August I called the guy about his Airstream.  “Well it’s not actually an Airstream, it’s a Streamline”.  What the hell is a Streamline?  Well it’s what you think an Airstream is but a different brand.  “But it’s in excellent condition, all original, just has a couple bullit holes in it”.  Excuse me?  “Ya well it’s been in storage in a yard and some kids decided to use it for target practice.  But the holes are just in glass that can be replaced.”   So after many questions and a couple days of back and forth with assurances from the seller that it is exactly as he says it is, we agreed on a price and I sent him a deposit to hold it until we could make the 700km trip to pick it up.

2 weeks later we roll into High River, AB to pay the balance on the trailer and take our new future adventure home home.  We met the seller at his place and followed him a few blocks to the storage compound to see the trailer.  First impressions were good.  It appeared straight, the bullit holes weren’t as bad as I’d pictured in my head, the tires looked new, and it appeared to be in original condition.  Then we went inside.  The inside is where the “great shape” stopped.  At first glance it wasn’t too bad.  A few soft spots on the floor, mostly in the corners, appliances were rough looking (I still have no idea if they worked), the bathroom needed a serious cleaning, and it seemed the front 7 feet was missing whatever was supposed to be there (chairs? booth? couch?).  After a fairly thorough inspection Angela and I got back in our truck to discuss.  There was no way we were paying what we’d previously agreed to.  But it was cool.  It was really cool.  Thoughts of what it could be overwhelmed the reality of how much work it would be.  But we just drove 700km and the seller has a sizable deposit that I have a feeling he’d already spent.  So, we negotiated further until reaching a number I was comfortable with considering the extra repairs needed.  700km later we had the beast back home.  We were excited!  What did we get ourselves into?

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The real work begins.

to be continued…

Welcome to our Adventure blog!

Hi Everyone!

Here is where you can follow us as we head out on our latest adventure. I am so excited that the dogs get to come along with us this time on our vacation!

We are going to be spending the next six months traveling the central/western USA and possibly venturing into Mexico as well if we can find a caravan group to travel down with.

Our traveling accommodations for the trip is our 1973 Streamline Crown Imperial that we gutted and customized to meet our lifestyle needs. We will do a post on our trailer renovation once we have it completed and are on the road. To see our progress so far check out our Instagram @streamlineliving for progress pictures.

Traveling with the dogs we are going to be on the lookout for pet-friendly places to visit. Jake (9yr Australian Shepherd), Erika (12yr Black Lab), Rubix (5yr Australian Shepherd) and Gus (2yr Great Pyrenees mix) are going to be so happy when they find out every day is going to be an adventure day! The dogs instagram is @lifetraveledwithdogs if you want to follow their adventures. Let us know your suggestions on places to see!

We also have a love of craft beer, wine or cider. We would love to check out as many places as we can on our trip so we can keep our kegerator (yep we did put that into our trailer) stocked.

That’s all for now, off to work on the trailer some more to get it ready!